Living on a remote island in the Orkney group, off the north coast of Scotland, it was difficult to go on holiday, not least because the weather made getting boats to take us off when we wanted to go very stressful.
Yesterday felt like the first day of summer here in Auskerry, and it made me think of the school trips I used to take the boys on every year.
The first educational part was the planning. We had no internet then, so I had a book called ‘Cheap Sleeps Europe’, and we used that to book one-star hotel accommodation or hostels. We would get maps and leaflets about the places to visit from tourist boards. Usually we stayed one or two nights in several different places, and travelled by train, which was much cheaper than in the UK. One year we took a boat to Belgium, and travelled to Paris. We were delayed by a fire on another train by two hours, so we had to cross Paris in about 20 minutes to catch our sleeper train south. A minicab driver got us there by the skin of our teeth, via several red lights, a scrape against a central barrier and a lot of swerving. It may or may not have been educational but the boys have never forgotten the lesson to leave lots of time for fires on trains.
Another year we went to a hotel in Nice. Our first sight of it was not encouraging. The whole building was covered in scaffolding, and when we entered the building we found that the stairs were being supported by acro-props with a single naked light bulb hanging from the ceiling. The next morning we were woken by a demolition team gutting one side of the building with a chute right outside our window. The ‘Hotel Mignon’ has gone down in family history.
I planned educational activities every day as well as holiday things like picnics. We would search out places to eat that were cheap down back streets. Our trips to art galleries, science museums and historic buildings were interspersed with lots of other activities such as swimming in the sea or walking in fabulous scenery. We saw lots of wildlife including poisonous snakes and on one occasion a brown bear. It was often a struggle to get teenagers up in time to make the most of the morning before the siesta closed everything down for a few hours, but on the whole we managed to fit in a lot. It gave them a feel for the possibilities of what life was like elsewhere, and how to cope with a limited budget, public transport and everything being ‘foreign’. We watched the semi finals of the World Cup 2006 in a village bar when France won the match, and on another trip we were in Genoa when the Genovese won the Italian Cup – in both cases the atmosphere was wonderful.
This year none of us will be actually going away for a holiday, but with the internet we can have a virtual one. There are lots of places of interest opening their virtual doors, so plan a trip, discover interesting places to visit. Find a restaurant, look at their menu and then try cooking one of their dishes. Hopefully next year you can follow it up with the real thing!